Christmas with Dignity has huge impact in community

    You don’t have to look far to see that Christmas is coming. The mall parking lots are already busier than last month and coffee shops have begun to brew eggnog and gingerbread flavored lattes; and like clockwork – the snow has arrived.
    Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time of year, filled with many blessings, but what if your blessings are not as abundant this year as in years gone by? What if this year you lost your job or you and your partner divorced? What if you can’t feed your children on your own? What if you’re sick or down on your luck? How do you count your blessings, when they are not so easily seen? What if the harsh realism of living in poverty is your everyday reality?
    Here is some breaking news: poverty exists in Chestermere; and it can hit when you least expect it.
    There is a program in Chestermere that has been running for seven years now called Christmas with Dignity which is an annual campaign that raises money for families in need in Chestermere. Although ‘Christmas’ is in the name and the majority of the funds are used during the holiday season, donations can be accessed at any time throughout the year when families in the community need assistance.
    Christmas with Dignity funds have been used for supporting individuals and families with damage deposit, first month’s rent, dental, transportation, recreation subsidy, utilities, and medication. It is typically accessed as a safety fund- when all other funds have been exhausted or cannot be accessed due to one’s income status or geographical location. This important program fills in the gaps and helps alleviate some of the presenting stressors that come with poverty.
    The goal of Christmas with Dignity this year is to raise $22,000 to support more residents in the upcoming years.
    Recently, I had the opportunity and privilege to meet a Chestermere resident who is currently struggling with poverty and has benefitted from the Christmas with Dignity initiative. He generously shared his story of struggle so that I could in turn share it with even more people in an effort to help bring awareness about what poverty within Chestermere looks like. For the sake of his family’s privacy, we will call this individual Jim.
    Jim lives in Chestermere along with his wife and two children, they moved here over seven years ago. At this time last year like many of us, they were looking forward to the upcoming Christmas season. Jim was 38 years old and living the dream; he had a good job and he was able to provide for his family all their needs.
    Then in December 2012, overnight, Jim’s life was turned upside down. One morning Jim woke up and experienced difficulty walking, then he started noticing that something was wrong with his eyesight. After being treated for a possible inner ear infection things still did not improve. Eventually, after months of doctor visits and tests, Jim received the devastating news that would change his life forever; he had multiple sclerosis.
    From there, things began to snowball. Because of the effects of his disease, he was unable to work, and it didn’t take long for the bills to pile up. Like many people in this situation for the first time, Jim didn’t know where to turn for help. Navigating the government programs for funding became his full time job and he feels that there are so many blockades in the system that it take months to receive any kind of support.
    From the time of Jim’s diagnosis until October of this year, he was dealing with organizations in Calgary for support. Jim was having troubles accessing the Calgary Food Bank because he was not a resident of the city. He didn’t know, like many of us, that we have a Food Bank right here in our own town.
    The fact is, the Chestermere Food Bank was accessed eight times in a two week period in October alone. That means that Jim and his family are not alone in their needs. And it makes me wonder, if more people knew that help is available locally – would it be accessed more? And how great is the need in Chestermere for this type of assistance? Possibly greater than we think.
    How many of our neighbours are struggling and go into Calgary for support? How many of us are able to offer support but don’t know that so many of our neighbours are in need? Poverty is a complex issue but there are some simple solutions that can help. First of all, know your neighbour. Simply put, the more we are connected with our community, the more we will care about one another.
    Jim has been unemployed now for many months. He is noticeably suffering from a disability. In the past he has always gone to work every day, for 7 years. You would think that it should be obvious to his neighbours that something is wrong, and that the family is in crisis. Yet when I asked Jim what his neighbours have offered in terms of support – his answer was nothing, but not because his neighbours are bad people, or uncaring in anyway – but rather because they simply do not know. Just as he admitted that if any of them are in crisis, he also would not know.
    We don’t know that our neighbours are in crisis and dealing with poverty because in Chestermere it is hidden.
    The community can assist families in need by becoming familiar with the Christmas with Dignity program and sharing the information with their neighbours, donating time, money, or gifts that will go towards the Christmas Store. The Chestermere Food Bank also needs support and it is easy to give with donation bins at Safeway and the Chestermere Rec Centre.
    A Christmas with Dignity Celebration event will occur on December 14, 2013 from 11:00-3:00 at Town Hall. This is an opportunity for the Town to host a gathering event; both thanking the community for its support towards the fund, but also, providing a ‘Christmas’ setting for families and individuals to connect with their community.
    The event will consist of musical entertainment, a silent auction, face painting, hot chocolate, and a Christmas Store. The Christmas Store is filled with donations for children to pick out presents for their loved ones. Christmas with Dignity families can access this program at no cost.
    All proceeds/donation from the activities at this event goes to the Christmas with Dignity program. For more information on how you can help, or if your family needs assistance, please contact Community Services at 403-207-7060. Your support will go a long way to helping families like Jim’s who, through no fault of their own are now having to deal with poverty – and they could be your neighbour.